On Monday July 28 the Badass Teachers gathered outside the US Department of Education to make our concerns known. The news coverage, and questions from friends who saw personal pictures has brought a new round of questions about the name. For those who are just hearing, here's what I told my friends who asked.
To me, being Badass means being brave, being skilled at what you do, and being willing to fight for what's right even when the fight may not be winnable. When I think of Badasses, I think of people whose spirit cannot be crushed because of their internal integrity. You can kill them, but you cannot conquer them.
They are also people who no longer ask permission or accept instructions from those in power who use that power to abuse others.
Here are a few people I think of when I think of a badass in real life: Gandhi, Susan B. Anthony, the men and women of D-day, Sojourner Truth, women pioneers, Jesus, my mother and father, and lots of others.
In the movies and literature I think of Steve McQueen in Great Escape, Spartacus, Cool Hand Luke, Tom Joad, Sally Field in Places in the Heart, even Harry Potter, and 1000 other heros and heroines whose determination, honesty, and caring about others was inviolable.
As teachers, for years we had been raising our hands politely, asking for "a place at the table," and being circumspectly respectful.
It just kept getting worse.
My breaking point was last spring when as English department chair I was responsible for making sure all the 11th and 12th grade students passed the barrier exam to graduate--even if they had learning disabilities, even if they had not been in-country long enough to speak English, even if they had been sick or had deaths in the family.
It was the third time the state had deliberately made the tests harder (not better or more comprehensive, but trickier, and dependent on knowing how to play the test).
My colleagues and I got all of the most vulnerable kids over the hump, with sleepless nights all around for parents, students and teachers; and much stress barfing and headaches, and many tears. We were successful.
But at the end of that process I knew that what I had just participated in was abuse. I had been on the wrong side of something that made me ashamed of who I was, and what I did, and I resolved to do whatever it took to break the standards and testing machine. This was not what American education was about or for.
Right after that, on June 17, 2013-- 3 days after it was founded--I found and joined the Badass Teachers, other teachers who like me were done with allowing what was being done to our students, our colleagues, our schools, and neighborhoods.
We don't raise being Badass in the classroom, though some our kids read the news and have figured it out. We do our jobs, and advocate professionally and appropriately in the school building and in our political spheres.
But I like the name, I think it is perfect. It serves notice-- if you are coming after our students, and our schools, you may be dealing with teachers, those nice ladies and easy going guys who like to help kids learn, but know, we will bring all we are and have to bear against those who would harm what we hold most dear.
In one year we have gone from 3 to 50 thousand, and we are dedicated to being as Badass as it takes--for our children.